Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Eternal Truths About Trading Success

A portfolio manager lent me an interesting small book from the late 1800s written by Dickson G. Watts and reprinted by Traders Press. Entitled "Speculation as a Fine Art and Thoughts on Life", the book begins with a description of the "qualities essential to the equipment of a speculator" (p. 8). Here is the author's perspective, written well over a century ago:

* Self-Reliance - "A man must think for himself, must follow his own convictions...Self-trust is the foundation of successful effort."

* Judgment - "...equipoise, that nice adjustment of the faculties one to the other...is an essential to the speculator."

* Courage - "...confidence to act on the decisions of the mind...be bold, still be bold; always be bold."

* Prudence - "The power of measuring the danger, together with a certain alertness and watchfulness, is very important."

* Pliability - "The ability to change an opinion, the power of revision."

I especially like Watts' formulation: "There should be a balance of the two, Prudence and Courage; Prudence in contemplation, Courage in execution."

This very much fits patterns of success I detect among the most profitable traders. They are prudent in contemplating their ideas--they wait for the odds to be in their favor and conserve their capital when the edge is not there--but they are courageous in executing those ideas.

Equally important, they can be courageous without getting their egos tied to their ideas. If markets are not confirming their views, Pliability ensures that they can revise those views and not hang on to losing trades.

"The qualifications named are necessary to the makeup of the speculator," Watts explains, "but they must be in well-balanced combination. A deficiency or an overplus of one quality will destroy the effectiveness of all" (p. 9).

Too much courageousness and too little prudence leads to impulsive risk-taking. Too much pliability and too little self-reliance leads traders to get chopped up, reacting frantically to the last market movements.

Some trading truths never go out of date.


Four Overlooked Qualities of Successful Traders

Resilience and the Courage of Your Convictions